For as long as humans have been consumers, we’ve all loved to get a good deal. Holding out for a sale, getting free samples at the checkout, or collecting loyalty points have for a long time been highlights of the consumer shopping experience. But with the prevalence of email as the primary marketing tool for retailers across the planet, those exciting moments are arguably becoming a bit less, well… glamourous. The much-marketed to, digitally savvy consumers have taken the bull by the horns, and buoyed by the continued effort of marketers to drive that last step of conversion, are playing the system to see discounts drop directly into their inbox. But how have we got here? When did tricking brands over email become fair game? We spoke to Skip Fidura, Client Services Director at dotmailer, to find out about the importance of trust in the online retail space, and how brands should be reacting to this savvy, subversive shopping.
Not Bad, Just Misunderstood
“There’s a negative perception towards marketing in general,” explains Fidura. “At a macro level, marketing is trying to seduce or coerce consumers into taking a certain action.” Advertising has of course been tempting consumers for hundreds of years, but digital has made that process more intimate than ever before. “Email is a very personal channel. It was the first digital channel that was addressed to the consumer, and it went directly into their homes,” continues Fidura. This intimacy has made consumers faster to judge and decide what communications they are actually willing to receive in their pyjamas. Recent research by dotmailer found 81 per cent of consumers feel that the bulk of emails sent by brands are spam, and irrelevant messaging is the biggest driver of this. “If it’s something irrelevant, it’s marketing, if it’s relevant, then it’s useful.”
So why has email marketing as a whole come to be so closely associated with spam? It would appear that the medium is a victim of its own success. Research carried out last autumn by the DMA, found that 42 per cent of UK marketers say none of the emails they send are relevant. “The blame has to be put on the marketers,” says Fidura, “but this isn’t down to them being lazy, or not caring. It could simply be down to budget.” Email still retains the comfortable top spot within digital marketing communication, for the simple reason that it delivers ROI. “Email gets, on average, an ROI that’s so much better than any other marketing channel, and so finance directors are constantly faced with a choice of where to invest. Should they put more money into the database to send more timely and relevant communications? Or can they use that to invest in another channel, if the return from email is already sustainable?” It’s understandable why managers holding onto purse strings might be reluctant to mess around with a formula that is already working, but the ramifications of this can be further reaching.
Sweet, Sneaky Incentives
Making purchases online is dependent on so much more than a simple need for convenience. When ordering a product from an online store, a consumer is entering into a level of trust with that brand, making a conscious decision to share their personal data and open an intimate line of communication between their inbox and a brand’s marketing team. So when that channel is inundated with irrelevant messaging, and that trust broken, slightly more nefarious practices like deliberate cart abandonment might seem like fair game to the beleaguered consumer. Customer loyalty has dropped massively from ten years ago, and when you’re feeling provoked by irrelevant communication, creating an account with a fake birthday might not seem like a big deal. In fact, 13 per cent of online shoppers abandon their carts to get a better offer, and one in seven abandon carts on different sites to compare incentives. But what can marketers do to fix this? Is it as simple as re-evaluating their email strategy? Or is this indicative of a brand image problem that needs to be resolved? “Part of it is just being smarter about doing your email marketing,” says Fidura. “Marketers have very quickly trained their consumers to go after the deal.”
With such a huge focus on the end conversion, email marketers could be described as “trigger happy” when it comes to follow-up offers and incentives. “The great thing about ecommerce and email is that you can test it, and I think if marketers actually tested their campaigns, what they would have found is that consumers may have abandoned the cart for some completely different reason- the phone rang, or the doorbell, or they had to go to a meeting.” While it is frustrating to lose a customer at that final purchase stage, it’s also just as annoying to waste a discount code on a consumer when they would have come back and made the purchase anyway. The reflexive nature of some brands to send incentives has created a pavlovian relationship within email, with email marketers losing out. “We’ve conditioned consumers to behave this way,” says Fidura. “We need to recondition them to think differently, which comes right back around to the question of loyalty.”
Rekindling The Relationship
So how do brands go about fixing this relationship? Is it simply a matter of more rigorous testing, or will a focus on customer experience secure the brand loyalty that marketers are looking for? “The overall customer experience is based on all the interactions with you as a brand, be it through search, twitter, social, email, or your website,” says Fidura. “So there’s not a single area of focus, but rather a testing mentality that incorporates all of these areas. Knowing what content works, what doesn’t work and having a better understanding of your customer base will allow you to decide for yourself who needs an offer, and who doesn’t. And for those customers who don’t require an incentive, you can find out how to offer value in another way.”
It’s clear that consumers are wise to the methods used by email marketers to get their attention, and also to the tricks they can employ to work these practices to their benefit. Here are his thoughts on the key areas where innovation can drive improved customer loyalty and engagement through email.
“Personalisation is more than just ‘Dear Dave’- it’s about knowing what Dave did last, what he bought last – and it can also be knowing when not to say something. If someone has just given you an NPS score of three, perhaps sending out that marketing email is not the best choice, because that clearly shows that you are not listening. It’s being able to capture what the current state of that relationship is. If you can’t do that, then ‘Dear Dave’ is a great start.”
- Unique and Interesting Content
“It’s more than just sending out an offer, or a weekly newsletter. What do you have that interests you? When you go to a party and someone asks you what your company does, what do you tell them? That’s the kind of stuff that’s also going to interest your consumers. It’s a matter of figuring out which consumers are going to be interested in which content, and meeting those needs.”
- Timeliness and Response
“The key here is automation. It’s being able to be reactive and responsive. Having a reaction at the appropriate time makes the communication very timely and relevant – so if someone signs up to your newsletter, you send them a thank you email, which drives them to a preference centre so you can collect some more data and start tailoring those communications. If someone comes to your website, browses around but doesn’t buy anything, you send a follow up. If someone came into a shop and that happened, the sales assistant would start a dialogue and figure out what they want. Marketers can do the same thing digitally. Think about what that would look like for your business, digitise it, and then support it.”
“Once you are doing the other four things, then relevance grows on its own. At the end of the day all we’re trying to do is have a human conversation at scale. The question is what you would say to the person right in front of you, those 100 thousand individuals.”
“The key piece around improving engagement and trust is just doing better; being more relevant and timely with the data we currently have. It’s really about being open, honest and transparent about the data you’re collecting, why you’re collecting it, and how that will benefit you as a business. Be open and honest. Consumers know how the data helps a brand, but marketers need to show how collecting that data is going to help them as a consumer. If marketers make promises, they have got to follow through. At the end of the day, it’s the empty promises and subterfuge of data collection over the years that has eroded that trust in marketers, and it’s only through transparency that we will win it back, and see an end to shady shopping tactics.”